A leading human rights group has called on the United Nations to act against the proliferation of unproven treatments for AIDS.

An article published in the peer-reviewed journal Globalisation and Health, Human Rights Watch cited examples of the promotion of these remedies in countries as diverse as Zambia,

Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, India, and Zimbabwe.

Human Rights Watch says the UN and its member states are failing to address serious threats to life and health posed by the promotion of unproven AIDS ‘cures’ and by counterfeit antiretroviral drugs.

“Fake cures have been promoted since AIDS was first identified,” said Joseph Amon, HIV/AIDS programme director at Human Rights Watch and author of the article.

“In the era of expanded antiretroviral treatment programmes, the failure of governments to monitor these false claims and ensure accurate information about life-saving antiretroviral drugs undermines global efforts to fight AIDS.”

In Gambia in February 2007 President Yahya Jammeh claimed to have developed a herbal cure for AIDS that was effective in three days if people taking the treatment discontinued taking antiretroviral drugs and refrained from alcohol, caffeine, and sex.

Following the announcement, Gambian journalists who criticised the so-called cure were fired, and the UN resident coordinator in Gambia, Fadzai Gwaradzimba, was permanently expelled for asking for scientific proof of the treatment’s effectiveness.

Last week the Gambian government announced with much fanfare that Jammeh had been awarded an honorary degree in Herbal and Homeopathic medicine by the Brussels-based Jean Monnet European University.

In accepting the degree, Jammeh announced that he had discovered cures for obesity and impotence, adding to his previously declared ‘cures’ for infertility, diabetes, and asthma.

Also in 2007, the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, announced the discovery of IMOD (an abbreviation for immuno-modulator drug), a herbal AIDS treatment made from seven local Iranian herbs.

The government has promoted the drug as a “therapeutic vaccine” and as the “first choice” for treatment in resource-constrained developing countries.

The President’s Office for Technology Cooperation has also promoted the remedy and sought partners for joint marketing, clinical trials, and manufacturing.

According to news reports in November 2007, the Iranian Minister of Health and Medical Education stated that all patients with

advanced HIV disease – more than 1,500 overall – would be treated with IMOD.

“Countries are gambling with the lives of people living with HIV by promoting unproven AIDS remedies,” said Mr Amon.

“The UN should condemn this practice and work with governments and civil society groups to ensure that effective AIDS treatment and information about it are provided.”